Federal three-judge panel orders lawmakers to draw new maps by Sept. 1; denies special election request

A federal three-judge panel has ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to draw new legislative maps by 5 p.m. Sept. 1.

The panel denied a request for the state to hold a special election to remedy the constitutional violations of 28 racially gerrymandered State House and Senate districts.

“The court’s decision affirms the urgency with which we must address this wrong committed against North Carolina voters,” said Allison Riggs, senior attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Despite operating as an unconstitutional body, the General Assembly tried to delay redrawing of maps until November 15. This prompt redrawing will allow North Carolinians to at least rest assured, knowing which districts they will be living in come the November 2018 elections, and that the federal court will be reviewing the remedial plans closely to ensure they are legal.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with the Poyner Spruill law firm, represents the plaintiffs in North Carolina v. Covington.

The three-judge panel wrote that the lack of action from lawmakers since its August 2016 order to redraw new districts “indicate that the General Assembly does not appreciate the need to move promptly to cure the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in the 2011 districting plans.”

The judges are James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Catherine Eagles of the U.S. Districting Court — both appointed by former President Barack Obama — and Thomas Schroeder of the U.S. District Court, who was appointed by George W. Bush.

Once lawmakers enact new maps, they have seven days to file them with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Lawmakers will also have to submit all transcripts from all redistricting committee meetings and floor debates, the “stat pack” (statistics) for the enacted plans, any alternative plans that were considered, the criteria applied in drawing new plans (including the extent to which race was a factor and the factual basis for any district with a Black voting age population greater than 50 percent.

Legislators can have the deadline extended to Sept. 15 if they submit evidence to the court by 5 p.m. Aug. 21 that they “(1) publicly disclosed the criteria to be used in drawing the remedial districts, (2) drew and publicly disclosed proposed remedial districting plans applying those criteria and remedying the constitutional deficiencies with the Subject Districts, and (3) made public a method and process for receiving comments and evidence from the public and other legislators.”

The judges waived a 1-year residency requirement for citizens to run in the 2018 election “notwithstanding the requirement of Sections 6 and 7 of Article II of the North Carolina Constitution.”

N.C. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse tweeted after the order: “Greatly concerned that three judge panel is nullifying the Constitutional residency requirements for General Assembly. @NCGOP #ncga”

Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Durham, Orange) tweeted after the order: “So, new #ncga maps. Good. And I’m ok with no special election because it gives us more time to recruit and prepare …”

Republican legislative leaders have not yet responded to the court’s ruling.

The joint House and Senate redistricting committees are set to meet at 10:30 a.m. Friday in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building.

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